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Dear Louanne: ‘How can I persuade my son to open up about potentially being bullied?’

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Parents could use stories or books as a means of opening conversations

Parents could use stories or books as a means of opening conversations

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Parents could use stories or books as a means of opening conversations

I think my child is being bullied in school. He has become withdrawn and doesn’t want to speak to me or my husband about how school is going. He normally is a very open little boy, always wanting to chat about things and let us in on his life. I think it’s happening but I can’t be sure. I don’t know how to have a conversation with him about it and encourage him to open up. He is eight.

FM

Hello FM,

Firstly, can I say what a loving and caring parent you are for noticing changes in your child’s behaviour. You sound as though you really know your little boy and that you pay attention to him.

Talking to your child about what they think is kind or unkind behaviour in school and in their community supports you in understanding what is happening in their lives. Open communication from you reassures that he can talk to you, as he has so enthusiastically in the past.

It’s never too early to start talking, thinking and learning about relationships, how to treat others and how a child can expect to be treated by others.

Bullying is a horrible and harmful experience. Alongside the physical effects of bullying there are emotional and mental health problems that can arise.

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Your child has the right to a safe and nurturing school environment.

Supporting your child to have a conversation when he seems to be reluctant is helpful (consider that he may have been threatened if he discloses to you).

Stories are a very important part of a child’s world.

You can use a book or a film to talk about what is happening in the story, how the characters might feel and what they could do.

‘Wonder’ by RJ Palacio for example is a fantastic book as well as film about bullying, empathy, compassion and acceptance. It’s suitable for ages 8 – 12.

When playing together with their favourite characters you can help them practice asserting themselves by saying, ‘No! Stop that’ and ‘No! I don’t like that’ in a clear voice.

Ask about how the friendship groups in school feel to be part of. Encourage your child to spend time with people who make them feel good about themselves. Talk about what characteristics make a good friend. Remind them that real friends won’t make you feel sad or get you to do things you don’t want to.

Schools have a legal responsibility to prevent bullying and to keep children safe. Bullies don’t usually bully in front of teachers though so pick up the phone and let your child’s teacher know that you have concerns about what is happening to your son. The teacher can keep a closer eye. Ask to be kept up to date.

Being bullied can really make a child feel very sad and lonely. Reassure your child that it is not their fault, that they are very much loved and amazing. Make sure that you take time as a family to do things that your child enjoys and make them feel good about themselves. Let your child know that he is not alone and together you will be able to sort this out and make it stop.

‘My best friend is no longer speaking to me’

I told my best friend that I liked her boyfriend – only that I liked him, not anything else – and now she’s not speaking to me! I didn’t mean I fancied him or that I wanted to go out with him; I thought it was a good thing to say because it’s important to like your friends’ partners. I thought it would make her happy, but in fact she is very unhappy with me. How can I talk to her?

SJ

Hello SJ,

I’m sorry to hear that your friend isn’t talking to you. It’s an unsettling experience when a friend stops talking to you. While you can’t make your friend talk to you can let them know that you would like to clear up the misunderstanding and repair the friendship.

You can consider apologising for hurting your friends feelings and reassure her that you are happy that she is in a relationship that is important to her, that you never meant anything more than you think that her boyfriend is a lovely person.

Give your friend time to reflect on your apology. Let your friend have time to heal. Hopefully, your friend will accept your apology and your friendship will resume. You will have learnt something about your friend and her sense of vulnerability around her boyfriend.

Following your apology if your friend still doesn’t want to talk to you, you can let her know that you’re happy to be friends when she is ready, no pressure, no judgement.

Have you considered the possibility that saying that you like your friends’ boyfriend isn’t the reason that she has stopped talking to you? Sometimes, people use silence as a way to end a relationship when they don’t have the communication skills to articulate their preferences or actions.

Your friends’ relationship with her boyfriend may have brought about a change in her priorities. It’s not an excuse for the silent treatment but it might be part of the reason for her stopping talking to you.

Sometimes it’s necessary to know when to let go. If you try to talk to your friend and she continues to ignore you then there really isn’t a friendship anymore. This will hurt of course but for your own health and well-being it is important to take care of yourself by realising that the friendship is probably over.

Take comfort with other friends and family members who you trust. They can reassure you and support you through the sadness of an important friendship coming to an end.

If the friendship isn’t restored, you will have to put this down to experience. Sometimes people do things in life that are very difficult to understand and this can because of their own internal issues and not about you at all.

In the end, it will be your friend’s loss as much as it feels like yours.

For more information on Relate NI, see www.relateni.org 


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